A Racer’s Edge…

As touched upon in a prior column, there was a time in drag racing near the late 1960s when Top Fuel and Top Gas cars morphed through a period of serious clutch explosions and the devastation that resulted, including the loss of some notable drivers (“Sneaky” Pete Robinson and Mike Sorokin of “Surfers” renown being just two examples of fatalities) and Jim Nichole surviving an incredible clutch explosion on the final T/F run of the 1970 NHRA Nationals against Don Prudhomme.

There’s a YouTube video on the Internet showing the Nichole accident, but I can attest to the force of the resulting shock wave because I was standing at the base of the finish-line tower.  It was if a bomb had exploded in the bell-housing, cutting the car in half with Jim, still strapped in the rollcage, tumbling off the track while the front of the car was spinning in front of Prudhomme.  I remember it clearly, and it wasn’t pretty.

That event cemented in the mind of Paul Schiefer, then President of Schiefer Manufacturing (the preeminent provider of high performance and racing clutches), a need to tackle the problem.  Because of his concerns, the fact that many of the failed clutches were being caused by racers improperly modifying these packages in a way that improved traction by not smoking the tires (plus Paul was a caring, innovative and concerned friend of mine), we dug into the problem together.  As you may recall from these pages in prior columns, a solution was finally found and the issue went away.  But that’s not the point of this sharing.  The subject goes more to a couple of the many teams who had their own ways of creating what I’ve chosen to call a “racer’s edge.”

So, along the way toward arriving at a solution to the failing clutches, I was privileged to work closely with a number of T/F and T/G teams.  Some of the friendships developed back then are still in place today.  One T/F team stood out as having more fun, perhaps, than many of their competitors, especially when it came to needling them.  Understand that drag racing hadn’t reached the level of professionalism of today.  Neither was the cost of racing as great.  It was also in the 1970s and, whenever possible and affordable, T/F teams would “tour” certain parts of the country, engaging in match races or exhibition runs… all for a fee, of course.

Although he’d had previous drivers, it was when Carl Olson became the pilot in Mike Kuhl’s digger that the team became notorious for winning major events.  They also interspersed their quests at the bigger events with appearances on tour and did the road gig for a couple of years.  It was at the NHRA Nationals in the early '70s that I watched Mike pull one of his frequent stunts.  Because competitors often sat in their cars in the staging lanes for a while, there was plenty of opportunity to “psych” each other.  While talking with Carl, I watched Mike make a significant turn of the magneto, taking spark out of the engine.  But he’d also made a small mark at the spot from which he’d made the adjustment.  All this transpired at the back of the staging lanes.